Beautiful People: a post-Referendum perspective from Alan McLeod

Our (Un)Common Wisdom series offers thinkers within and outwith our Church a voice in our own reflections. Today we hear from one of our own, Alan McLeod, Eucharistic Minister in East Sutherland, as a follow-up to his recent article.

Alan blogs at

So long as the Shias and Kurds had Saddam Hussein, so long as the Croats and Kosovans had Tito, so long as all gnarling, snarling peoples have a common enemy and hate figure, the ugliness of local enmities remains hidden. I worry that Westminster is Scotland’s Sunni and Tito. If Scotland becomes independent, will it turn upon itself like a serpent gnawing at its own tail? After seeing what happened in George Square, I wonder? I am probably, as always, far too soap-opera­-dramatic for my own good; but I do worry that there is an underlying hatred and where there is no hatred some of us will make it up anyway just so that we can cause trouble. That is certainly in our nature.

The German philosophers who witnessed the French Revolution remarked that for all of their Enlightenment­ thinking, the French were not ready for freedom. They were not ‘rounded’ as the Germans put it. The romantics said that the French did not understand what a beautiful person was and therefore did not understand what they needed to be as citizens to embrace, control, mould and perfect revolution.

I do not think we Scots are quite the beautiful people yet on this week’s showing. Yet! How we conducted ourselves during the referendum and now in its wake leaves us looking girny as a race. No one seems happy north of the border.

Whether an atheist or a man of faith, we all must concede that the universe is not a static and finished project but a dynamic and creative journey. The solar system expands as the sun burns itself out. We (humanity from its standing up to its demise) are a speck of dust on the slide ­rule of time. Everything is changing. Thus, there is an inevitability in the UK’s and in Scotland’s creative change. We cannot stop it. At best we can try and shape it like a skier on a glacier, like a sailor on the wave, like a child with a billowing kite. The status quo was unsustainable. Independence, as YES Scotland narrated it, was probably a step too far in 2014 in the revolutionary process of change. Devo­max, whether heralded in the front door or sneaked in the back door by Westminster, is probably the safest way­point for now. It will be different by 2016.

Language is so important. ‘Independence’ is not the word YES Scotland ought to have been using. Independence would have been no Queen, own currency, 100% clean ­break from everything south of Hadrian’s Wall. Thus, the YES voters should not be so disheartened and angry. Salmond’s idea of independence which I shall call “one-­wrist-uncuffed” is actually in constitutional terms, in a peaceful era such as ours, very close to what Cameron et al have offered. In truth, one could say that rather than Cameron conning Scotland, Scotland has in fact called a tune that Westminster now dances to. I would argue YES has won just as much as NO has not lost.

I do not want to say anymore just now until the dust settles because our so­-called truths within a week of the vote may be sentenced in time as guilty by the Court of History on account of hot emotions and ill­ measured words.

I will finish with one observation. Some institutions fared very well in the referendum process. My own church for example wisely proclaimed that so far as politics and the constitution was and is concerned, we are agnostic. Other institutions, not so well. By looking 200 years into the distance and by thus putting today’s squabbles into a proper historical perspective some mused wisely almost sage­like from the side­lines, peering at a distant horizon where the storms of time inevitably die ­out. Wise men and women as well as wise institutions remain unseen in the background and work their small miracles not for public recognition but because deep within there is this sense of what I spoke about above: being ‘beautiful people’.